Ok – a briefer St. Nick post this time. I said before how I did not know when and how Saint Nicholas came to be associated with the North Pole. Not being content with not knowing – I did a little a checking. I can now report that a cartoonist by name of Thomas Nast submitted a series of drawings to Harpers Weekly from the early 1860’s through the late 1880’s of a Santa’s Christmas Village with a very general address of N.P. (North Pole – as was made clear by several elements of the drawings. Prior to 1909, the North Pole was a much mysterious place than afterwards. After all, no one had ever gotten there or at least lived to tell about it. But it was understood to be, shall we say, sparsely populated and generally very snowy. Both of these facts fit well with the concept of a magical figure associated with a winter holiday. So, there you have it – Thank you Mr. Nast.
That said, I will always remember what set in motion one of the many projects here at IRCC. For several years we manufactured and sold (for only the cost of materials) nativity sets. They were what is reckoned as 1/3 life size and constructed of plywood painted white. (The owner of one of our sets painted his up in detail and color.) The full set featured Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, three wisemen, three camels, a donkey, a sheep, and a cow. We would make whatever combination of figures anyone wanted. All figures were 3D rather than flat and (when assembled) free standing – until it got more than just so windy! For the set we used at the church for many years, bricks for weight or tent stakes for anchors settled that problem. We haven’t made them for a few years now but already this season I have seen them start to pop up.
Anyway – how did that project get started. I had, for a few years, experienced increasing discomfort over the state of Christmas themed lawn sets I saw around the community. Nativity scenes increasingly waned in favor of snowmen, Rudolf, and of course Santa – in his traditional sleigh or on a motorcycle, tractor or even in a flying saucer. Then, one Christmas, penguins became a popular item in Christmas lawn décor. ‘Penguins!’ I thought to myself. ‘Penguins aren’t even from the North Pole!’ It immediately occurred to me that if I was down to defending an orthodoxy as far afield as Santa’s residency in the North Pole, our thinking about Christmas had strayed far indeed! So, we started making the nativity sets. As I said, they are still out there.
Also, as perhaps you have perceived, it was wondering how Santa ever found his way to the North Pole in the first place that sparked the memory about the origin of the Nativity project. So, I suppose, thank you again Mr. Nast. Let’s think about Christ at Christmas.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church